Tombstone circa 1881
Courtesy Arizona Historical Society
Tombstone is the most famous of Arizona
mining camps with its colorful history. Located in the Mule Mountains at an elevation of
Ed Schieffelin was born in 1848 in
California, son of a forty-niner. He prospected in Nevada, Utah, Oregon, Idaho and in
1877 went to Arizona with a cavalry troop from San Bernardino, California. The
Apaches were on the warpath and the small garrison of men at Fort Huachuca had the duty of
protecting all non-Indians in the area. Some of the soldiers warned him all he'd
find was his own tombstone, but Schieffelin ventured into the Apache lands - alone, in
search of riches.
In 1877 or 1878 he found a ledge of silver
ore; and with the soldiers warning still fresh in mind, called his claim the Tombstone.
The second prospect he located, he called the Graveyard.
Schieffelin took some ore samples to his
brother Al, who was working at the Signal mine. The company assayer who analyzed the
ore was Richard K. Gird. Gird was so impressed with the results of his assay he
persuaded the brothers to let him join them in developing the claims. The
prospectors also located additional claims - The Lucky Cuss and Tough Nut. Shortly
after that the Contention and Grand Central deposits were staked.
Old Modoc Stage
Photo courtesy of Cochise County Historical Society
A roaring camp grew up in the vicinity
the Lucky Cuss mine. It was called Watervale. Later the settlement
abandoned in favor of a location on a mesa by the Tough Nut mine. Officially in
April 1879, the location became known as Tombstone.
By 1880, Tombstone had boomed into perhaps
the most famous mining camp it the West. During that year a cyclone hit, raising
havoc. In 1882 the camp is said to have had one hundred and fifty licensed saloons.
Fire virtually destroyed the town in 1881, and again in 1882. Both times
Tombstone rebuilt, and at one time the population probably reached between fourteen and
twenty thousand people. In 1887 and earthquake shook the town, reportedly
stopping every clock.
OK Corral 1879
Photo courtesy of the
Cochise County Historical Society
The most famous calamity to hit Tombstone
was the fabled gunfight, probably staged in a vacant lot near the OK Corral and Livery.
The cast of characters and the location of the fight are pretty well agreed upon,
but there is a historical argument over when it occurred. Some say it was October
17, 1981 and the majority say it was October 26. Still another authority says
October 25. The shoot-out was reported in the October 27, 1881, edition of the
The fight climaxed a long-standing feud
between the Earp brothers and the Clanton-McLowery gang who sided with Sheriff John
Behan. They squared off near the OK Corral - nine of the toughest men in the
When the smoke had cleared, Ike Clanton and
Billy Claiborne had run away, Frank and Tom McLowery were dead, and Billy Clanton lay
dying. Virgil Earp had sustained a leg wound, while Morgan Earp was shot in the
left shoulder, and Doc Holliday had suffered a minor back wound.
While such goings-on occurred above ground,
miners encountered serious problems below. As shafts went deeper, they struck water
at about the five to six hundred foot level. Huge pumps were installed, and pumping
operations were continued until 1885 at the Grand Central, until a fire destroyed the pump
house. A year later the Contention hoist and pumping works burned. Both mines
were forced to close. The year of 1885 saw most of the mines in the area flooded.
Little mining activity went on during
the next few years. The idea was advanced that by consolidating all
interconnected mines in the area into one operation, the flooding problem
could be overcome. Capital was raised, and in time pumps raised
to the surface about eight million gallons of water a day. But pumping
costs were prohibitive - the cost for fuel oil alone was reported to have
been $700 a day. Again, resolutely, water sought its own level, and
Tombstone ceased to exist as a mining town.
Tombstone Public School - early 1900's
Photo courtesy of the Cochise Historical Society
Cattle ranching kept the town going but the population
dwindled and most of the buildings decayed. But in the mid-1900s, tourists discovered the
one-time home of the Earps and Clantons. Historic buildings were repaired and restored.
Boot Hill, the first cemetery to be so named, became a top attraction and the famed
shootout was re-enacted to thrill visitors.
It's now a prime attraction on anybody's tour of
southeastern Arizona, with saloons and distinctive restaurants. The old courthouse has
become a museum of Wild West history and the whole town has been designated a national
Million Dollar Stope - Abandoned caved-in mine shaft
Photo courtesy of the Cochise County Historical Society
For more information:
Tombstone Chamber of Commerce
PO Box 995
Tombstone, AZ 85638
Tombstone is 70 miles southeast of Tucson,
and is easily reached via Interstate 10 to Benson and then south from Benson on Arizona
State of Maine Mining Company -
Outskirts of Tombstone
Things to see and do
Boot Hill Graveyard - The cemetery holds the
graves of many of Tombstone's early settlers of the mining camp and quite a few desperados. Most of the historic buildings are along the boardwalks that line Allen
Street, one block west of the highway. Gunfights and barroom brawls are staged along Allen
Street on several Sundays each month. The Bird Cage Theater, from 1881 the home of bawdy
entertainment -- previously a dance hall, saloon, theater, brothel and gambling house --
has no performances today but is open. Bullet holes score the theater's old walls.
The Crystal Palace Saloon - a 1879 watering
hole and gambling den that has been faithfully restored; the long back-bar is not the
original but an excellent replica. The saloon is open daily for drinking and eating, with
entertainment on weekends.
The O.K. Corral - the corral where it is said
the legendary gunfight between the Earp and Clanton brothers and Doc Holliday took place
(it didn't). The fight actually took place on what is now a vacant lot near the corral on
Fremont St. Nearby there are several other historic buildings including the photographic
studio of C. S. Fly, which has a showing of historic photos. An admission fee is charged
for these attractions.
Rose Tree Inn Museum - In the 1880's home
courtyard is a rose tree more than 100 years old -- reputed to be the world's largest.
Covering a huge arbor (8,000 square feet) the old rose plant blooms each April.
Tombstone Courthouse - Built in 1882 this large
brick structure is at the corner of Toughnut and Third Streets. It's now a state
historic park and museum filled with artifacts and photographs of the 1880s. The town
gallows is on display in the courtyard, and the gift shop is the best place in town to buy
books on the history of the town and region. You can visit the old offices of the
Tombstone Epitaph to see how pioneer newspapers were produced and purchase a souvenir copy
of the second-oldest continuously published paper in Arizona.
Places to Shop
Hills Trading Company - 504
Allen Street. The owner's family dates back to 1879 when they homesteaded
in the area. As unique Tombstone is to it's history so is the combination
of southwestern jewelry from the Navajo, Zuni, Hopi and Santa Domingo tribes,
with semi-precious stones set in silver or gold-filled jewelry. We have an
outstanding collection of Indian crafted items from throughout the southwest.
So, no matter what type of gift you are looking for be sure and browse through
our selection of fine jewelry, gift items, t-shirts, hats, kokopelli dolls,
Southwestern decorative accessories such as sandstone coasters and tableware,
and a variety of books from cooking to Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.
Places to Eat
Nellie Cashman Restaurant - located at the
corner of Fifth and Toughnut. This restaurant has historical photos of Tombstone on
the wall and has an extensive menu. The historic adobe building survived the
fires of the 1880s, mainly because of the 18-inch walls. For information and
reservations, call (520) 457-2212.
Vogan's Alley Bar - located two doors down from
5th and Allen.
The Longhorn - located on the corner of Allen
and 5th is popular with the locals, serving good food in a rustic setting.
Don Teodoro's - located on Fourth Street it
serves Mexican food.
Places to Stay
Larian Motel - Large comfortable rooms,
410 Fremont St. (Hwy. 80), P.O. Box 224, Tombstone, AZ 85638 (520) 457-2272
Lookout Lodge - The newest and most modern
place to stay in Benson.
Hwy. 80, P.O. Box 787, Tombstone AZ 85638 (520) 457-2223
Tombstone Motel - Older and smaller hotel
offers clean, comfortable accommodations.
9th Street at Fremont, Tombstone AZ 85638 (520) 457-3478
Marie's Engaging Bed and Breakfast - Located
near downtown, this B&B is an original 4-room adobe structure, built by a store owner
named John Rock in the late 1800's.
101 North 4th Street, Box 744, Tombstone, AZ 85638 (520) 457-3831